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Comment on Is Language a Window into Human Nature?

carel Fri, Jan 4, 2008
Language is a two edged sword. It enables us to stack metaphor upon metaphor, giving us the ability to juggle abstract notions. But by naming something, we also strip the object or idea of its uniqueness. A particular object loses detail in our mind when we give it a name. It is easier to draw a face upside down than right side up for those who are not experienced at drawing a portrait. When we view a face right side up, the verbal labels of eye, ears, nose and mouth blur the uniqueness of those features we are observing. Something similar is mentioned in this pasage from "Julian Jaynes revisited" :

"It is certainly a remarkable fact that there was a long time gap between the cave paintings and the re-emergence of art in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and moreover the art of these civilizations is quite different from what preceded it. The new art is rigid, non-naturalistic, lacking perspective. When naturalistic painting and the use of perspective were rediscovered, in the Italian Renaissance, these skills were no longer spontaneous but required long training and practice for mastery. This suggests that the cave artists were functioning in a different way from us today, and that something happened between their time and our own. Was this 'something' the development of modern language?"

There will (and should) always be a "gap between the perception of the world and the manner by which we describe the same world." No matter what form of communication we invent, its usefulness in evolutionary sense will come from its incompleteness.